top of page
  • Dr. Norbert Martin, DPT

Practical Guide on How to Do HIIT Safely and Effectively


Young female athlete doing an intense workout on a fan bike

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a popular and efficient way to exercise that involves alternating short bursts of intense activity with longer periods of rest. HIIT can help you burn more calories, lose weight, build muscle, improve your heart health, and boost your mood. But how do you do HIIT correctly and avoid injuries? In this practical guide, I will explain the benefits of HIIT, how to do HIIT safely and effectively, how to design your own HIIT workout, and how to prevent and treat common HIIT-related problems.


What are the benefits of HIIT?

HIIT has many advantages over traditional steady-state cardio, such as jogging or cycling at a moderate pace. Some of the benefits of HIIT include:

  • You burn more calories in less time. HIIT can help you burn up to 30% more calories than other forms of exercise in the same amount of time. This is because HIIT increases your metabolic rate both during and after the workout, meaning you continue to burn calories even when you are resting.


  • You lose fat and preserve muscle. HIIT can help you reduce body fat, especially visceral fat that surrounds your organs, and increases your risk of chronic diseases. Unlike some forms of cardio that can cause muscle loss, HIIT can help you maintain or even increase your muscle mass by stimulating the production of growth hormone and testosterone.


  • You improve your heart health. HIIT can lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, which are all important factors for cardiovascular health. HIIT can also improve your aerobic fitness and endurance by increasing your VO2 max, which is a measure of how much oxygen your body can use during exercise. A higher VO2 max is associated with a lower risk of death from any cause.


  • You boost your mood and brain function. HIIT can release endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in your brain, which are chemicals that make you feel happy, motivated, and alert. HIIT can also improve your mental health by reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. Additionally, HIIT can enhance your memory, learning, and cognitive abilities by stimulating the growth of new brain cells and improving blood flow to the brain.



How to design your own HIIT workout?

There is no one-size-fits-all formula for HIIT. You can customize your HIIT workout according to your goals, preferences, fitness level, and available equipment. However, there are some general guidelines that you should follow to make sure you are doing HIIT safely and effectively:

  • Choose an activity that you enjoy and can do at a high intensity. You can do HIIT with almost any type of exercise that gets your heart rate up, such as running, cycling, jumping rope, rowing, swimming, or bodyweight exercises. The key is to choose an activity that you like and can perform with good form and technique at a high intensity.


  • Warm up before starting your HIIT workout. A proper warm-up is essential to prepare your muscles, joints, and cardiovascular system for the intense demands of HIIT. A warm-up should consist of 5 to 10 minutes of low to moderate-intensity exercise that mimics the activity you will be doing during the intervals. For example, if you are going to do sprint intervals on a treadmill, you can warm up by jogging or walking briskly on the same machine.

  • Determine the duration and intensity of your intervals and rest periods. The duration and intensity of your intervals and rest periods will depend on your fitness level and goals. As a general rule of thumb, the shorter the interval, the higher the intensity should be. For example, if you are doing 20-second intervals, you should aim for 90% or more of your maximum heart rate (MHR), which is roughly 220 minus your age. If you are doing 60-second intervals, you should aim for 80% or more of your MHR. You can use a heart rate monitor or a perceived exertion scale (from 1 to 10) to gauge how hard you are working during each interval.

The rest periods should be long enough for you to recover partially but not fully between intervals. The ratio between work and rest can vary from 1:1 (equal work and rest) to 2:1 (twice as much work as rest) or more. For example, if you are doing 30-second intervals, you can rest for 15 to 30 seconds between them. The shorter the rest period, the more challenging the workout will be.

  • Determine the number of intervals and total workout time. The number of intervals and total workout time will also depend on your fitness level and goals. As a general rule of thumb, you should aim for at least 10 minutes of HIIT per session, which can include 4 to 10 intervals. You can increase the number of intervals or the duration of each interval as you get fitter and stronger. However, you should not exceed 30 minutes of HIIT per session, as this can increase your risk of overtraining and injury.

  • Cool down after finishing your HIIT workout. A proper cool-down is important to gradually lower your heart rate and blood pressure, prevent dizziness and fainting, and reduce muscle soreness and stiffness. A cool-down should consist of 5 to 10 minutes of low to moderate-intensity exercise that gradually decreases in intensity. For example, if you did sprint intervals on a treadmill, you can cool down by jogging or walking slowly on the same machine. You can also do some gentle stretching exercises to relax and lengthen your muscles.


Customizing HIIT Workouts to Meet Individual Goals and Fitness Levels

Here are some examples of how people with different goals or fitness levels could design their own HIIT workout:


1. Beginners looking to improve cardiovascular fitness:


For beginners who are new to HIIT, a simple yet effective workout can be designed as follows:


  • Warm up for 5-10 minutes with light cardio (e.g., jogging, cycling, jumping jacks)

  • Perform 20 seconds of high-intensity exercise (e.g., sprinting, jumping jacks, mountain climbers)

  • Followed by 40 seconds of rest or light exercise (e.g., walking, slow cycling)

  • Repeat for a total of 8-10 rounds

  • Cool down for 5-10 minutes with light cardio and stretching exercises



2. Weight loss and toning:


For individuals looking to lose weight and tone their muscles, a HIIT workout that incorporates strength training exercises can be effective. Here's an example of such a workout:


  • Warm up for 5-10 minutes with light cardio and dynamic stretching exercises

  • Perform 30 seconds of high-intensity exercise (e.g., jumping squats, push-ups, lunges with weights)

  • Followed by 30 seconds of rest or light exercise (e.g., walking, slow cycling)

  • Repeat for a total of 10-12 rounds, alternating between strength exercises

  • Cool down for 5-10 minutes with light cardio and stretching exercises



3. Advanced athletes looking to improve speed and endurance:


For advanced athletes looking to improve their speed and endurance, a HIIT workout that incorporates longer intervals of high-intensity exercise can be effective. Here's an example of such a workout:


  • Warm up for 10-15 minutes with light cardio and dynamic stretching exercises

  • Perform 60 seconds of high-intensity exercise (e.g., sprinting, box jumps, burpees)

  • Followed by 30 seconds of rest or light exercise (e.g., walking, slow cycling)

  • Repeat for a total of 6-8 rounds

  • Cool down for 5-10 minutes with light cardio and stretching exercises


Remember to always listen to your body, adjust the intensity and duration of each exercise based on your fitness level, and gradually increase the difficulty over time to avoid injury and achieve optimal results.


How to prevent and treat common HIIT-related problems?

HIIT is a safe and effective form of exercise for most people, but it can also cause some problems if done incorrectly or excessively. Some of the common HIIT-related problems include:

  • Muscle soreness and fatigue. It is normal to feel some muscle soreness and fatigue after a HIIT workout, especially if you are new to this type of exercise or have increased the intensity or duration of your intervals. This is a sign that your muscles have been challenged and are adapting to the stimulus. However, if you feel excessive or prolonged soreness and fatigue that interfere with your daily activities or performance, you may have overdone it and need more recovery time.

To prevent muscle soreness and fatigue, you should warm up properly before each HIIT session, cool down properly after each HIIT session, hydrate well before, during, and after each HIIT session, eat a balanced diet that provides enough protein and carbohydrates for muscle repair and energy replenishment, get enough sleep and rest between HIIT sessions, vary your HIIT workouts by changing the activity, intensity, duration, or frequency of your intervals, and listen to your body and adjust your HIIT workouts according to how you feel.

To treat muscle soreness and fatigue, you can apply ice or heat to the affected areas, massage or foam roll the sore muscles, take anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin if needed (but consult with your doctor first), do some light aerobic exercise or active recovery such as walking or swimming to increase blood flow and reduce stiffness in the sore muscles, and stretch or do some gentle yoga poses to improve your range of motion and flexibility in the sore muscles.

  • Injury. HIIT can also increase your risk of injury if you are not careful. Some of the common injuries associated with HIIT include sprains, strains, tears, fractures, tendinitis, bursitis, and overuse injuries. These injuries can occur due to poor form or technique, inadequate warm-up or cool-down, excessive intensity or duration of intervals, insufficient recovery time between intervals or sessions, lack of variety in HIIT workouts, pre-existing medical conditions or injuries, or improper footwear or equipment.

To prevent injury, you should follow the same tips for preventing muscle soreness and fatigue. Additionally, you should learn and practice proper form and technique for each activity you do during HIIT. You can consult with a physical therapist or a certified fitness trainer for guidance and feedback on your form and technique. You should also avoid doing HIIT if you have any pain, inflammation, swelling, or other signs of injury in any part of your body. You should seek medical attention if you experience any severe or persistent pain or discomfort during or after HIIT.

To treat the injury, you should stop doing HIIT immediately and follow the RICE protocol: Rest the injured area for at least 48 hours; Ice the injured area for 15 to 20 minutes every few hours; Compress the injured area with a bandage or wrap to reduce swelling; Elevate the injured area above your heart level to reduce blood flow. You should also see a doctor if you suspect a serious injury such as a fracture or a tear. Depending on the type and severity of your injury, you may need medication, physical therapy, surgery, or other treatments to heal properly.


Final Thoughts

HIIT is a great way to exercise that can provide many health benefits in a short amount of time. However, HIIT also requires careful planning and execution to avoid potential problems such as muscle soreness, fatigue, and injury. By following the tips in this guide from a physical therapist, you can do HIIT safely and effectively and enjoy its positive effects on your body and mind. Happy HIITing!😊



References 1. Schuenke MD, Mikat RP, McBride JM. Effect of an acute period of resistance exercise on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption: implications for body mass management. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2002 Mar;86(5):411-7. doi: 10.1007/s00421-001-0568-y. Epub 2002 Jan 29. PMID: 11882927. 2. Boutcher SH. High-intensity intermittent exercise and fat loss. J Obes. 2011;2011:868305. doi: 10.1155/2011/868305. Epub 2010 Nov 24. PMID: 21113312; PMCID: PMC2991639. 3. West DW, Burd NA, Tang JE, Moore DR, Staples AW, Holwerda AM, Baker SK, Phillips SM. Elevations in ostensibly anabolic hormones with resistance exercise enhance neither training-induced muscle hypertrophy nor strength of the elbow flexors. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2010 Jan;108(1):60-7. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01147.2009. Epub 2009 Oct 22. PMID: 19850759. 4. Weston KS, Wisløff U, Coombes JS. High-intensity interval training in patients with lifestyle-induced cardiometabolic disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2014 Aug;48(16):1227-34. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2013-092576. Epub 2013 Oct 21. PMID: 24144531. 5. Wisløff U, Støylen A, Loennechen JP, Bruvold M, Rognmo Ø, Haram PM, Tjønna AE, Helgerud J, Slørdahl SA, Lee SJ, Videm V, Bye A, Smith GL, Najjar SM, Ellingsen Ø, Skjaerpe T. Superior cardiovascular effect of aerobic interval training versus moderate continuous training in heart failure patients: a randomized study. Circulation. 2007 Jun 19;115(24):3086-94. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.106.675041. Epub 2007 Jun 4. PMID: 17548726.


If you need help designing a HIIT program tailored to your specific goals and fitness level, don't hesitate to contact Jubilant! Together, we can create a customized plan that will help you achieve your fitness goals and improve your overall health.




If you find this article helpful, leave a comment below and share it with your friends! And don't forget to Subscribe to the blog today!


Comments


Subscribe to Our Blog

Thanks for subscribing!

bottom of page